In the first part, we began with explaining as to why we are quoting New Testament writings primarily from the New King James Bible (the modernized rendition of the old King James Bible or Authorized Version). These renditions are both based on Greek manuscripts commonly referred to as the Textus Receptus. We also explained that basically two more sets of Greek manuscripts exist—the Alexandrian text and the Majority Text. Many feel that greater emphasis should be placed on especially the Alexandrian text, as the copies we have are allegedly older than those used for the Textus Receptus.
The Church of God has, for many decades, concluded for important reasons that the manuscripts based on the Textus Receptus are most reliable.
First, we need to understand that we have today about 5,000 Greek manuscripts, but no original copies. Almost 4,500 of these are based on the Byzantine text [the Textus Receptus], stemming from the fourth and fifth century A.D. They are pretty much consistent. Whatever differences exist are in spelling or wording.
In “The Inspired Text of the Bible,” the late Dr. Herman L Hoeh, a long-time Evangelist, historian and biblical scholar, set forth in 1969 the position of the Church of God, as follows:
“The first and fundamental principle is very simple: God has told us in the Bible that He has indeed revealed His will to man by (1) inspiring men to write or say certain things; and (2) to have it preserved. In short, the concept is that all scripture is given by inspiration of God (II Tim. 3:16)…
“Now, with these two basic premises in mind, we would logically expect that the Old Testament would have been preserved by those people in whose language it was originally given! This is the simplest, most logical, and most likely result: The people to whom the revelation is given, who understand the language, are the people who will preserve it. You really cannot preserve something like the Hebrew Bible [the Old Testament] intelligently when it comes to copying if you can’t understand the LANGUAGE. Try to copy a language you don’t understand and see how many errors will immediately creep in!
“The point is that God did choose a particular people to whom He revealed His will. These are the people about whom we read in the Bible that ‘unto them were committed the oracles of God’ (Romans 3:2)…”
In other words, God entrusted the Jews with the preservation of the Old Testament Scriptures. Continuing:
“Now we also read that God was going to commit this information to the Gentiles. The Jews had turned aside and therefore, Paul said, ‘I go to the Gentiles.’ He did give the message to the Gentiles and God inspired the New Testament to be written in Greek! So we would logically and consequently expect the Greeks to preserve it. If the Jews preserved what was written in Hebrew, why should not the Greeks have preserved what was written in Greek? That is exactly what happened!
“What text have the Greek people preserved for the New Testament? – the ‘Byzantine.’ In the Western world the Protestant form of that text is called the Textus Receptus, which is essentially the same as the Byzantine except for a little Latinization here and there and late Greek spellings. The Greeks as a people have within their national and religious body, a whole series of manuscripts that is available to the scholarly world.
“If the Greeks had not preserved it, there would not even have been a Greek Bible available until Tischendorf and Griesbach and others uncovered manuscripts. In fact, if the Greek Bible is not the New Testament God inspired to be preserved in Greek, then the New Testament in Greek was lost, and we only had the Latin. And only when Tischendorf, for instance, went to Sinai and was looking in the waste basket, could the Western world have recovered the Greek New Testament – which doesn’t make sense!”
Dr. Hoeh went on to explain why the Dead Sea Scrolls (discovered by Tischendorf) should not be the standard as they were not publicly preserved but hidden for almost two centuries and as the Essenes and other heretical sects were not a part of the mainstream of the Jewish community and did not accurately preserve the Greek text to begin with.
Dr. Hoeh continued:
“Now, in what community do we find the inspired Greek text has publicly been preserved? Answer: In the Greek community in general… [at] Mount Athos… Athens, or Constantinople. Mount Athos was… a center of the multiplication of the text of the Greek world…
“There are two major areas of deviation from the Byzantine text. The one used by the scholars to replace the Byzantine is the Alexandrian…”
To interject, the Alexandrian text consists of ancient Greek manuscripts, and three of them date from the third century A.D., while it is claimed that the earliest manuscripts in our possession on which the Textus Receptus is based, are, as mentioned above, from the fourth and fifth century. Even though this may be true, ancient versions in other languages have been found following the reading of the Textus Receptus, which include manuscripts from as early as AD 120.
In any event, does this mean that the older Alexandrian text is more reliable than the younger Byzantine text?
Dr. Hoeh went on to explain:
“The Alexandrian text, though Greek, was preserved in Egypt – named after the city of Alexandria. What does God say about Egypt?… Egypt is a type of sin and we’re to flee from it! Christ came out of Egypt; Moses fled Egypt; The Children of Israel left Egypt. You can go on and on and you will note how many people have had to come out of Egypt! This should have been a warning to the scholars. The Greeks in Egypt, unlike any other place in the world, were the most important grammarians and hence their approach to the text was critical. The Alexandrian text gives every evidence of suffering more from a critical analysis of the various readings. Alexandria was the center of critical scholarship of that day! Therefore it was… the unsafe area for preserving Scripture.
“The Greek Septuagint was the first translation of the Hebrew text. It was done by Hellenized Jews in Alexandria, Egypt! The Jews themselves recognized in their day that the Septuagint represented an early form of the Bible but, a heretical form with false readings…”
To elaborate, while the scribes who copied the Byzantine manuscripts in Asia Minor were extremely diligent, this was not the case for those copying manuscripts in Egypt. This explains why there are even several differences between the three most ancient Alexandrian manuscripts. Also, thousands of words seem to be missing from the Alexandrian texts, again indicating that the copying was somewhat sloppy. Others claim that these missing texts were added in the Byzantine manuscripts, but for the most part, there is no proof for such an allegation. Exceptions exist, of course; note our discussion in our previous Q&A on the fraudulent addition of a portion in 1 John 5:7-8.
Dr. Hoeh went on to explain:
“What other name is applied to non-Byzantine [Greek] readings other than Alexandrian? The Western! Why do scholars use the Alexandrian and not the Western as the standard text type in competition with the Byzantine? Because they saw clearly themselves that there were so many variations within the Western that they couldn’t produce a text. The Western text was not a critical solution trying to resolve problems of divergent reading…
“… there are many variations in the Alexandrian… but sufficient uniformity that it entertains the scholars. There are a sufficient number of variations in the Alexandrian that you can never arrive at the right answer, but you can always get something that is an approximation – and scholars like that! That’s the ‘scientific’ approach. It must not be exact, but it must be potentially resolvable – ‘enough to keep us employed!'”
Dr. Hoeh also made the point that for a long time, the variants in the Greek text, that is, the Alexandrian and the Western texts, were not publicly circulated. He stated: “They have not been available, but rather unused, forgotten, unknown, uncirculated!”
On the other hand, it must be stated that the differences between Alexandrian texts and Byzantine texts (Textus Receptus) are very small. It has been estimated that they involve less than one tenth of 1 percent of the text of the New Testament. Almost none of them includes a significant change in meaning. They may be interesting to textual scholars, but the overall spiritual content is maintained in both sets of manuscripts. That is to say that someone who is honest in reading and understanding texts based on Alexandrian or Byzantine manuscripts will not conclude that the doctrines of Scriptures have been altered—including the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath, the Holy Days, unclean meats, tithing, and many other salvational matters.
In conclusion, we must empathize again that God has determined to preserve His Word, and He has seen to it that this was done. The following statement in this regard must be taken very seriously:
“For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).
Technically, this passage refers specifically to the book of Revelation, but the overall application relates to the entire body of Scriptures. Moses gives the same admonition in Deuteronomy 4:2 which specifically refers to God’s words as related by Moses, but which clearly applies to all Scriptures: “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it…”
God gave His true Church the ability to determine what was added and what was deleted in certain manuscripts. It boils down to a matter of faith and conviction that God IS true to His Word.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link